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Christopher Price, MP and stalwart Marbalista – 1932-2015

I was sorry to hear earlier this week that Chris Price had passed away at the age of 83.

For those who didn’t know him, Chris was a former Labour politician, who worked tirelessly for many years in support of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. He studied classics at Oxford and expressed his views on the Elgin Marbles (as they were then known) to colleagues as early as 1958. This is interesting, as many retentionists like to believe that any movements for return only originated when Melina Mercouri became Culture Minister in Greece in the 1980s, whereas the reality is that the return movement has always existed.

Chris was one of the original members of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, and its Deputy Chairman for many years. He was also a member of Marbles Reunited, liaising between the two committees. He was also a great philhellene and critic of the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. Unlike many of today’s politicians, he was a man of substance and conviction – somebody who would do what he believed to be right, rather than perpetually worrying about whether this would damage his chances of being re-elected.

After leaving parliament following electoral defeat in 1983, he went on to become the vice-chancellor of Leeds Polytechnic during its transition to becoming a university, part of his lifelong commitment for a fairer and more equal society and the importance of educational opportunity. Once he retired had more time available to devote to the restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures, regularly using his parliamentary contacts and in-depth knowledge of government procedures to secure meetings, discover about new bills that were going to be debated and otherwise intervene, to make sure that the opinion of those supporting reunification of the sculptures was heard.

He enriched the lives of all of us who were lucky enough to have known him, and his expertise will be missed by all who campaign for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. While others might have pre-conceived ideas of how the campaign should be managed, Chris was always open to adapting strategies and incorporating new approaches, in order to accommodate changing conditions. When I last met with him in 2010, he was enthusiastically talking to me about the idea of cultural decolonisation – the idea that Britain had decolonised physically, but never bothered to send back the cultural artefacts when she granted independence & that this was a widespread movement that needed to happen.

Chris died last Saturday 20th February 2015, after a period of poor health following a stroke.

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM [1]

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM

Independent [2]

Christopher Price: Energetic MP who despite his combative nature was liked and admired both by colleagues and opponents
Tam Dalyell
Tuesday 24 February 2015

It was Christopher Price’s misfortune – and in my informed opinion the nation’s – that he never held a safe Labour seat. In 1966 he took Birmingham Perry Barr from the Conservative incumbent Dr Wyndham Davies but perished when Edward Heath came to power in 1970. In February 1974 he was elected to Lewisham West, and held the seat in 1979, but to the huge sadness of his many Labour friends – he had the rare gift in politics of being candid and outspoken without making enemies – he lost by a sliver in the 1983 election at which Gerald Kaufman described Labour’s manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”.

Had Price survived he would certainly have been elected to the Shadow Cabinet, and might well have been elected leader rather than Neil Kinnock; he would have garnered votes from a number of colleagues. His eventual successor in Perry Barr, Jeff Rooker, then a young engineering manager, told me Price had been well-regarded by the Birmingham Labour councillors and local union leaders. Jill Knight (Edgbaston) remembered him as a first class colleague on City of Birmingham supra-party issues. Brian Walden, elected in 1964 for Birmingham all Saints, told me, “Chris Price was a very, very good constituency MP. He genuinely cared about people, not least those from ethnic minorities. I have nothing adverse to say about him.” Coming from the most acerbic TV inquisitor of our age, that last sentence is an accolade.

In Lewisham Price won the admiration of the Labour movement on account of his tenacious support of three teenage constituents, condemned in court, but who through Price’s terrier-like confrontation with the majesty of the law turned out to be not in the least guilty of the offence of aggravated burglary with which they had been charged.

He was the son of Stanley Price, a pioneering educational administrator who helped introduce the first large-scale day-release schemes in Britain. His mother, Katherine Thornton, was the daughter of a remarkable Wesleyan missionary Alfred Saville, who became loved by the people of Huahine Island near Tahiti. In 1982 Price visited to receive an independence medal awarded to him by the islanders in recognition of his grandfather’s missionary service and his grandmother’s kindnesses to the Polynesian women. Price’s sister Helen Jackson, MP for Sheffield Hillsborough (1992-2005), said, “Chris was my middle elder brother; he was the one who always made me laugh.”

In the 1966-70 parliament he was one of a few MPs voicing concern about the British Indian Ocean territories, in particular the expulsion of the Banabans from Diego Garcia on the Foreign Officer’s grounds that “they were not belongers” to the Chagos archipelago.

He attended Leeds Grammar School; his near-contemporary, the botanist Nigel Hepper, remembered him as an argumentative pupil with a healthy curiosity. He went to the Royal Artillery training camp at Oswestry for his National Service, but left the Officer Cadet Training Unit “because I was so argumentative.” Qualities which did not appeal to the army were welcomed at The Queen’s College, Oxford, where he became secretary of the university Labour Club, then chairman of the National Association of Labour Student Organisations.

In 1958 Price and I met and became friends at the Labour Party conference in Scarborough. What stuck in my mind was less his ardent cheering for Hugh Gaitskell than his even more ardent support for the cause of returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece. Forty years later he was vice chairman of the Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. When I told him that a senior curator of the British Museum had described him to me as “a pain in the arse” Price beamed with pleasure. He did enjoy challenging the great and the good.

He was teaching classics – he was a lifelong believer in the value of “hard subjects” in state schools – when he was elected to Sheffield council in 1962, serving as deputy chairman of the education committee (1962-66). He stood unsuccessfully in the 1964 general election, but the national agent Dame Sarah Barker was impressed by his performance and suggested that he try for Birmingham Perry Barr. Within weeks of entering the Commons he became PPS to the education secretary, Anthony Crosland. Nowadays secretaries of state are surrounded by a phalanx of young special advisers, but Crosland had three – his Permanent Secretary Sir Herbert Andrew, the formidable Toby Weaver, and Price.

The excellent working relationship between Weaver and Price was crucial to formulating Crosland’s advocacy of the polytechnics. In his second incarnation as an MP Price’s crowning achievement was his robust polite and penetrating chairmanship of the Select Committee on education, science and the arts. He was appalled at the current tendency of select committees chairpersons to “grandstand”.

Patrick Cormack was the senior Tory on the Education Select Committee during Price’s chairmanship. “Price really did care about the quality of education,” he recalled, “and this transmitted itself to the civil service and expert witnesses who came in front of our committee.” He was passionate about the arts and his involvement after the Commons was all-embracing: director of the London International Festival Theatre (1982-86), member of the Council of the Open University and of the Arts Council of England were but a few of his activities. He also wrote for the New Statesman and Times Education Supplement.

After Westminster the main job into which he threw his colossal energy was leading Leeds Polytechnic into becoming Leeds Metropolitan University in 1992. Praise came from an unexpected quarter: Sir Keith Joseph, Leeds MP and former education minister, said to me, “your friend is doing really good work, bringing into higher education many of those whose parents left school at 14. I had doubts about his appointment; now I admire what he is achieving.”

I cannot think of an MP who made more constructive use of a post-Westminster existence truncated by the swing of the political pendulum than Price. He told me he could not have done what he did without the support of his wife of nearly 60 years, Annie.

Christopher Price, politician, academic and journalist: born Leeds 26 January 1932; MP, Birmingham Perry Bar 1966-70, Lewisham West February 1974-83; married Annie Grierson Ross 1956 (one daughter, two sons); died London 20 February 2015.

Daily Telegraph [3]

Christopher Price, Labour MP – obituary
6:15PM GMT 24 Feb 2015

Christopher Price, who has died aged 83, was one of Labour’s leading educational thinkers, and a staunch defender of civil liberties. A highly rated MP for Birmingham Perry Barr and Lewisham West, he went on to chair the New Statesman, be principal of Leeds Metropolitan University and campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

Price never fitted into any of Labour’s ideological factions, congenially building contacts across the political and educational spectrum. He did not see comprehensive schools as an end in themselves, but as the most civilised way of educating children, with the school the focus of the wider community.

As deputy chairman of Sheffield education committee, he played a role in implementing the city’s shift to comprehensives. As an MP, he strongly supported Anthony Crosland’s Circular 10/65, which empowered local education authorities to make the change in their own way, then proposed forcing recalcitrant councils to go comprehensive in an influential pamphlet New Challenges In Education (1967).

Price cautioned Labour that the public schools could not be abolished at a stroke, but urged withdrawal of their charitable status. He caused laughter in the House by noting that Eton had been established to benefit the “poor and needy”.

As the Statesman’s education correspondent from 1970, he suggested that the entire higher education system should follow the Open University and waive qualifications for entry. “If the 11-plus examination was wrong,” he said, “so was the 14-plus, the 16-plus and the selection mechanism for university.”

At the North of England Education Conference in 1987, he told Kenneth Baker, the education secretary, to “stop slicing everything creative out of the curriculum”. He delivered – often in The Daily Telegraph – an informed critique of Margaret Thatcher’s reforms, concluding that they had run into the sand, with half a reform worse than none at all.

Price made his name as a civil liberties campaigner over the imprisonment of a constituent, Colin Lattimore, for the 1972 murder of Maxwell Confait, a homosexual transvestite found strangled in his blazing bedsitter. Two other youths were convicted; Lattimore had confessed, but Price reckoned he had a cast-iron alibi and persuaded the home secretary, Roy Jenkins, to review the case.

In 1975 the Lord Chief Justice ordered Lattimore’s release. A judicial inquiry concluded that his confession to arson was probably true, but that the other youths had persuaded him falsely to admit the killing. In 1980 the Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, declared all three men innocent of the murder.

Price’s ties to the New Statesman involved him in a second cause célèbre: the “ABC” trial of 1978, which greatly embarrassed the Callaghan government. Crispin Aubrey of Time Out, Duncan Campbell of the New Statesman and former Cpl John Berry of the Royal Signals were tried for breaching the Official Secrets Act. “Colonel B”, an intelligence officer not identified in court, was the main witness; three periodicals named him, prompting contempt proceedings from the Attorney-General, Sam Silkin.

Sensing an attack on free speech, Price and three other Labour MPs earned a rebuke from the Chair by naming “Colonel B” in the Commons. All three accused were convicted, and given minimal sentences. Price launched a campaign to reform the Act, which Clement Freud took up after winning the ballot for Private Members’ time; his Bill fell with the defeat of the Labour government.

Christopher Price was born in Leeds on January 26 1932, the son of Stanley Price and the former Katherine Thornton; his sister, Helen Jackson, would be Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough from 1992 to 2005. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School and, after National Service with the Royal Artillery, at Queen’s College, Oxford, becoming secretary of the University Labour Club in 1953, and national Labour students’ chairman.

Price taught classics at a grammar school, and in 1962 was elected to Sheffield city council. He fought Shipley in 1964, and in 1966 Perry Barr. He impressed as the only audible speaker at Harold Wilson’s notoriously rowdy public meeting in Birmingham’s Rag Market.

Elected by 3,665 votes, he became PPS to Crosland’s ministerial team. He took a constituency interest in inefficiency and poor labour relations at the British Motor Corporation, and helped David Steel push through his Abortion Bill.

Price was defeated at Perry Barr in 1970, but in the snap February 1974 election ousted the young John Gummer at Lewisham West. He campaigned against detaining disturbed adolescents in mental hospitals, and conceded that raising the school leaving age to 16 might prove a mistake; his own 15-year-old son could not wait to leave. He also urged ministers to include the SAS in defence cuts as “many Labour MPs do not think its activities do any credit to Britain”.

When James Callaghan became prime minister in April 1976, Price invited him to Lewisham – and received a speedy acceptance. Callaghan told him: “I have always found Lewisham a happy place. I did my courting in the Labour committee rooms during a general election. There is always room for fun and games between canvassing.”

Briefly PPS to Callaghan’s education secretary, Fred Mulley, Price fell foul of the Speaker when he accused the Appeal Court of a “perverse and misguided” decision that Mulley’s direction to Tameside council to abolish its grammar schools was unlawful.

He joined forces with Lewisham’s Labour council to try to have the National Front’s marches – in which he detected the “cancer of racism” – banned because of the risk of disorder. He also briefly served in the then-nominated European Parliament.

After Callaghan’s one-vote defeat in a no-confidence debate on March 28 1979, Price was among several Labour MPs who stayed behind defiantly singing The Red Flag.

It was Price who, that November, paved the way for Mrs Thatcher to reveal that Sir Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, had been a Soviet spy. With Dennis Skinner, he tabled questions linking Blunt to the case as rumours began to circulate. The next day Blunt was named and stripped of his knighthood; his disappearance that morning led Price to claim Blunt had been “tipped off”.

When the new select committee system was set up in 1980, Price became chairman of the education committee. When a musicians’ strike threatened the Proms, the panel brought the BBC and the Musicians’ Union together after three concerts had been cancelled. It also proposed what became the GCSE examination, fusing O-levels and the Certificate of Secondary Education, and took evidence from an Open University student brought from Wormwood Scrubs prison.

Price sought an emergency debate when Harriet Harman, legal officer to the National Council for Civil Liberties, lost her appeal to the Lords against her contempt of court conviction for allowing a journalist to see confidential Home Office documents disclosed to her in a legal action.

He also took up the issue of a party at New Cross which ended in 13 deaths when the house was set alight. He told MPs that had be been the parent of a victim, he would have been “horrified” by the way the inquest was conducted, and complained that young people who had been at the party were repeatedly arrested on minor charges.

Unseated again in 1983, Price became director of the London International Festival of Theatre and pro-assistant director of South Bank Polytechnic. Appointed director of Leeds Polytechnic in 1986, his eight years there saw it transformed into Leeds Metropolitan University.

Price chaired the New Statesman in 1994-95. He was also chairman of the National Youth Bureau and Yorkshire Arts; co-chairman of the Freedom of Information Campaign and a member of the Arts Council.

Christopher Price married Annie Ross in 1956; they had two sons and a daughter.

Christopher Price, born January 26 1932, died February 21 2015

Guardian [4]

Christopher Price obituary

Labour MP, teacher and education journalist who became chairman of the New Statesman

Throughout a lifetime of committed public service Christopher Price, who has died aged 83, ran successful parallel careers in politics and in education. When not otherwise occupied he also worked as an energetic campaigning journalist, and from his schooldays pursued the enthusiastic love for the classics he had learned at the family breakfast table. Although he was a Labour MP for a relatively short time and was never a minister, his impact on Westminster politics was considerable and he was widely admired for his principled principled decency. He had been in declining health in recent years, following a stroke.

A big teddy bear of a man, he was always full of the urgency of his latest idea for making the world a better place. He was uninterested in status, wealth or public recognition. He wanted people to be treated fairly and he wanted children to be taught properly. There are few politicians of whom it can be written that their universal popularity was such that they were without enemies, but he was one of them. “The laughter per square foot would rise immeasurably if he was there,” according to Peter (now Lord) Hennessy, who worked with him in education journalism and appreciated his undaunted spirit and warm-hearted generosity.

Chris was born in Leeds, the second of four children of Stanley Price, a classical academic, and his wife, Kitty, who trained as a health visitor. One brother became a doctor, the other a cleric, and his sister, Helen Jackson, was also a Labour MP. They were taught at home that classical Greece, Plato and a bit of Mesopotamia were what they needed to understand about civilisation, and at Leeds grammar school Chris quickly established the link with politics. He joined the Labour party aged 16, encouraged by a fellow pupil and future MP colleague, Gerald Kaufman, and amused himself at school by translating the Yorkshire Post into Latin and Greek.

He grew up in East Keswick and stayed on in Yorkshire to finish his schooling when his family returned to their native Croydon. During his national service in the army, he was thrown out of the Officer Cadet School for being argumentative and looking scruffy, and two days after completing his tour of duty went to Queen’s College, Oxford, to read classics. He chaired the Oxford University Labour Society and subsequently the National Association of Labour Student Organisations. The lifelong friends he made at Oxford included the journalist Anthony Howard and the tele- vision producer and executive Jeremy Isaacs.

Returning to Yorkshire, Chris became the senior classics teacher at Ecclesfield grammar school. Through student politics he had already met another friend for life in Roy Hattersley, who recalls him arriving late for a student conference, driving a battered Austin 7, wearing his Oxford blazer and waving a bottle of ouzo, and the two men later served together on Sheffield city council. Chris was the deputy chairman of the education committee to the great Albert Ballard, a leading figure in the Co-operative party, and is personally attributed with the abolition of the city’s grammar schools by the end of the 1960s.

He unsuccessfully fought Shipley for Labour in 1964, but won Birmingham Perry Barr in 1966 and was immediately appointed parliamentary private secretary to Anthony Crosland at the education department. He held the seat for only one parliament. Out of the Commons for four years, he worked as an education correspondent for Thames TV and the New Statesman – of which he later became the chairman (1994-95). He returned as an MP in February 1974 for Lewisham West and was appointed again as a PPS (1975-76) to the education secretary, by this time Fred Mulley.

When James Callaghan took over as prime minister from Harold Wilson in 1976, Chris might have expected to join the government, but believed privately that Callaghan failed to promote him because of a chip on his shoulder about Chris having studied classics at Oxford and believing him to be “too clever by half”. Even when he told Callaghan that he got a third class, the prime minister replied: “ Well, anyway, it was in Oxford. It’s all the same for people like you.”

Chris, with typical self-deprecation, had no regrets about his lack of elevation, which he felt also reflected his readiness to speak his mind and his lack of cohesion to either left or right in the then increasingly divided parliamentary party. He greatly enjoyed his delegated membership of the European parliament in 1977-78, before there were direct elections to it, and then chairing the Commons education select committee from 1980 until he lost his seat in the Labour wipeout of 1983.

Rather than seek another seat, he returned to teaching. He was director of Leeds Polytechnic for six years from 1986, overseeing its transition to Leeds Metropolitan University, of which he then became principal (1992-94). He was involved in a huge number of projects and campaigns throughout his life, worked with the National Youth Bureau on drug rehabilitation, was a member of the Arts Council and headed the Commission on the Organisation of the School Year (2000-03), through which he attempted, with limited success, to change the annual school programme into six-term years.

One of his greatest achievements, working initially with the National Council for Civil Liberties, was to secure the re-opening of a 1972 case on the murder of Maxwell Confait and the subsequent release of three innocent men from jail. This led to new legislation on police interrogation methods in cases involving those with a reduced mental capacity and the publication of The Confait Confessions (1977), which Chris co-wrote with Jonathan Caplan. He also campaigned for many years for the return of the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles to Greece.

While at Oxford, Chris met Annie Grierson Ross, a nurse, and they married in 1956. She survives him, along with their three children, Jenny, Tony and Michael, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

• Christopher Price, politician, journalist and education, born 26 January 1932; died 21 February 2015

The Times [5]

Christopher Price
Price did not toe the Labour party line
February 25 2015
Independent-minded Labour MP who campaigned for comprehensive schools and later had a role in exposing a Soviet spy

The Labour MP Christopher Price was a powerful voice at the vanguard of Britain’s education revolution in the 1960s. He waxed lyrical about the “civilising” influence of comprehensive schools, but advised against the abolition of the public schools. He famously caused great amusement in the House when he reminded MPs that Eton had been set up to benefit the poor.

As deputy chairman of Sheffield’s education committee, he helped to oversee the city’s switch to comprehensives, and later advocated forcing other councils to take the same path. He was parliamentary private secretary to the secretary of state for education, Tony Crosland, when polytechnics were created in the 1960s and, more than two decades later, as director of Leeds Polytechnic, he oversaw the institution’s transformation into a university.

“I tended to specialise in education because you have to specialise in something,” he once said of his political career. In fact, born and brought up in Yorkshire, Price was the son of an influential director of adult education and, as a young man, taught classics at state grammar schools in Sheffield.
Arriving at Leeds Polytechnic in the mid-1980s he found a sprawl of poorly maintained buildings erected in the 1950s and 1960s and “a great deal of snobbery”. By the time it became Leeds Metropolitan University in 1993 he had 19,000 students taking courses from cookery to institutional management. “The greatest change is the noticeably increased respect with which I am treated by the Leeds higher bourgeoisie,” he said.

As an MP, Price had been one of those casualties of politics who never quite fulfilled their early promise. First elected to the Commons for the marginal seat of Perry Barr in Birmingham at the age of 34, he seemed set for a bright future, an impression reinforced when he was appointed PPS to Tony Crosland in 1966. But Crosland was not inclined to promote the prospects of those who served him. He lost his seat in the election that brought Ted Heath to power and became education correspondent of the New Statesman. He used the position to advocate that Britain’s higher education system should follow the Open University and abolish entry qualifications.

Price returned to the Commons in the first general election of 1974 when he won the marginal Labour seat of Lewisham West in south London, a constituency he narrowly held in the second election of the year.

He was one of the MPs who, in November 1979, enabled Margaret Thatcher, by then prime minister, to reveal that Sir Anthony Blunt, the art historian who was Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, had been, with Philby, Burgess and Maclean, a member of the Cambridge spy ring in the Thirties and Forties. Blunt was named after Price tabled questions in the Commons about the case. He lost his seat again in 1983.

Christopher Price was born in Leeds in 1932. He attended Leeds Grammar School and won a place at Queen’s College, Oxford, where he read classics and was secretary of the university Labour club. His father brought him up with a respect for education but not always for those in authority. If Price encountered “Trespassers will be prosecuted” signs while out on walks in the Dales, his father would tell him: “Don’t worry about that.” At Westminster, he established himself as a conscientious, if independent-minded MP fully prepared to take his own view on such issues as the Wilson government’s 1967 application to join the Common Market, which he opposed. He was the first to admit: “I was neither left-wing nor right-wing. Frequently, however, I felt that Labour was doing the wrong thing and sometimes I blurted it out. So I never became at all popular with either the left or the right.”

He admired Wilson but was irritated by James Callaghan: “I would be standing there and he’d put his arm around my shoulder: ‘How are you doing Chris? It’s all right for you, you know, with your first-class honours degree’, and I would say ‘Jim, I got a third class’, and he would say, ‘Well, anyway it was at Oxford. It’s all the same for people like you’. He was fairly bitter about the posh classes.”

Colleagues never found Price strident, but he fought his corner, often with a smile, and had a strong record on civil liberties. While MP for Lewisham West he successfully campaigned for the exoneration of three men convicted of the murder of a young transvestite in a case that raised questions about the police.
He married Annie Grierson Ross, a nurse, in 1956. They had three children: Jenny, an artist, Tony, a translator and editor, and Michael, who is an estate agent in the US. His sister, Helen Jackson, also became a Labour MP.

Price had a lifelong interest in Greece. He spent a summer there as a student travelling with friends, including Jeremy Isaacs, the future television executive, in a Bedford truck bought for £50 from a Ministry of Defence depot. The vehicle was so decrepit that a red oil light flashed on the dashboard whenever it climbed a hill — and the group were forced to drive backwards across the mountains. In Athens they found that the window of the youth hostel’s bathroom looked out on the Parthenon. Price was later outspoken in his support for the return of the Elgin marbles to Greece.

With his wife, a keen artist, he spent time at their cottage in the Dales, and regularly visited Cyprus, where he hoped to found a new university after retiring from Leeds in 1994. While still director, he quipped: “We are insisting on compulsory retirement at 60 for all our senior managers, saying if they are not knackered at 60, they ought to be.”

Christopher Price, Labour MP and polytechnic director, was born on January 26, 1932. He died on February 20, 2015, aged 83